Last week I wrote a somewhat scathing column in the Columbia Missourian concerning the attempt of the ACLU’s Eastern Missouri Affiliate to disband the Mid-Missouri Chapter. Needless to say, that that commentary resulted in numerous responses, mostly good, some bad and one hateful. Not all agreed with me. What I found most interesting was the response I received at the meeting at the ACLU-EM headquarters in St. Louis. Here is my version as to what happened.
If you have not figured it out yet, this is an opinion column. If you wish to read “the news,” the only reporter at the meeting appeared to be Madeline O’Leary of the Missourian. Unfortunately, she was sitting next to me and did not quote others from the Mid-Missouri chapter.)
The two-hour carpool drive to St. Louis was filled with talk and laughter about things other than the upcoming meeting. Donnie and Erica Warren were our driving “hosts” and except for the bladder break, all was well. We met up with the Mid-Missouri chapter president Dan Viets and others who made the long drive from the middle of the state.
(For those of you who are not familiar with the “Show-me state,” central Missouri is pretty much flat and the only thing in the 300 miles between Kansas City and St. Louis is Columbia, Boonville, Fulton, corn and an occasional tree farm.)
The original article received a good number of responses, including from those opposed to my position, Maggie Taylor, Matthew Hall, secretary of the Board of Trustees, and Thomas Hayde, Vice President of the Board of Trustees. It was a lively and oft times heated conversation which I elected to sit back and read; I said my piece.
One of the first people I met entering the ACUL-EM building was the affiliate’s executive director Brenda Jones. Ms. Jones did not respond to the original column, but she did read it and she was not very happy with me. However, I received a warm handshake and a “We’re good” from Ms. Jones and I was at ease. Mostly.
What did upset me were said by Board of Trustees President Mondi Ghasedi. She said that the ACLU-EM had become “bigger, stronger and scarier.” Why scarier? Isn’t the purpose of this organization to champion the “work against the negative insurrection of individual liberties?” That is a positive thing, so, again, why do we want to be “scarier?”
This was not the only comment made by Ms. Ghasedi. She closed her opening statements before handing the meeting those moderating the discussions with an interesting competition metaphor, “Let the games begin,” a direct reference to Roman Empire bloody “games”, not the Greek Olympiads.
Ms. Ghasedi refused to speak with melater because of my alleged distorted and misleading column. I had the information in hand. I can read by-laws and understand the directions they are meant to take. Like Messrs. Hayden and Hall, she had the opportunity to rebut my opinion, but chose not to. Mine was only an opinion column. My opinion. It is unfortunate that she did not take a lesson from Brenda Jones on basic political courtesy.
This meeting was scheduled to begin at 2:00 pm but started some 35 minutes late. The reason was simple, the number of people who had shown for this meeting and were still signing in at the appointed hour. Most were there for a presentation by Imam Muhamed Hasic of the Islamic Community Center titled “Religious Freedom: Building from the historic Muslim Day in the State Capital.” It was unfortunate that I could not stay longer.
The rules for the debate on the amended by-laws were set. First questions concerning procedures, the choices the Board made leading up to the vote and the language of the proposition. One of the biggest concerns seemed to be the packaging of all the amendments into a single vote. The reason given was that all of the proposed changes, 31 in all, were “connected.” Yet many of the voting members still questioned why, seemingly hesitant in having an all or nothing choice.
Next came one-hour for arguments from proponents and opponents alike.
The debate was lively and contentious, much as expected. What was not expected where the eight opponents to disbanding the Mid-Missouri Chapter to initially one proponent. It was an “us-versus-them” debate as each took a hard stance. Eventually, the number of debaters balanced with one obvious exception. The proponents were mostly members of the Board, the opponents were not.
The results: The Mid-Missouri Chapter was dissolved by a 2 to 1 vote. Dan Viets lost his seat on the Board, but central Missouri is still represented by Erica Warren, ACLU-EM’s newest Board member.
There are two lessons that I take from this short but heated battle. First, win or lose, each side had an equal opportunity to support their positions, a fair vote was taken and the majority of members present (90 of 152 votes cast – a small fraction of the ACLU-EM membership) spoke. As with most elections, the goal is simply 50 percent plus one.
Second, a lesson I learned years ago working for then Rep. Pat Schroeder was reignited and one that I hope to share. This ordeal was about politics, not personal vendettas. I am sorry Ms. Ghasedi took my commentary so personally, but, as Schroeder told me, “it is only politics. You can’t take commentaries personally.”
Brenda Jones understands. We will speak next time we meet. I am not upset with her, Mondi Ghasedi, the members of the ACLU-EM Board, Dan Viets or anyone else with the outcome of a hard fought and fair vote. It’s, after all, only politics.
David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at Columbia Missourian and New York Journal of Books.